From the mailbag…re “Are Engineers Really in Demand?”
This is a response to Jim, who commented on “Are Engineers Really in Demand.” Thought this deserved a blog post, rather than just a response from me.
Of all the things that offer consulting opportunities Engineering, with the exception of Civil, is way down on the list. With all the non disclosure agreements and req 4 security clearances its almost impossible to be a real engineering consultant. Besides Companies find engineering the most outsourced, easily replaceable ppl prod today. Companies can hire temp Engrs today by the handful. Unlike things that take that special personality to make it successful Engrs have finally become the new grunt labor seen by Mgmt as “the ppl not smart enough 4 a real business career.” Wake up its 2012 not 1962!
Thanks for the comment, and for reading my blog! In fact, you’ve given me ideas for a new post.
First, I respectfully disagree that engineering consulting is not viable. Having done this full time for 25 years (and having made a very good living at it), I’ve also met a number of other successful full time engineering consultants across multiple disciplines — electrical, mechanical, civil, and more. Even collaborated on projects with some, when we needed to leverage our individual strengths.
I also disagree that nondisclosures and security clearances are a barrier. We regularly sign nondisclosure agreements, although we do NOT sign non-compete agreements. (If we agreed to work with only one auto company, one medical company, one computer company… we’d soon be out of business.)
Regarding security clearances, we’ve worked on classified programs without clearances. We’ve held clearances in the past, so we appreciate this concern. Fortunately, our engineering specialty does not deal with classified data, so we work around it.
But the military/defense sector is only a small part of industry — there are a myriad of opportunities in other areas (commercial, facilities, medical, industrial controls, and much more) that do not require security clearances.
Incidentally, we decided early on NOT to focus solely on defense, and have been better off for it. (Didn’t want all our proverbial eggs in one basket.)
I do agree that engineering is being outsourced, and to I share your concerns. But is it realistic to expect that we in the US should “own” all the engineering?
After all, there is a world wide market for our products. My experience with non-US engineers has been positive — smart, innovative, and driven with a passion for engineering. (Maybe that explains some of the outsourcing — companies seek talent where they can.)
At the same time, there are many medium and smaller companies who employ local talent. In fact, they are among my favorite clients. Many of the engineers are refugees from big companies, and are more interested in changing the world than climbing the ladder.
Ditto the management. Many are engineers themselves and appreciate the contributions of their employees — and also their consultants!
Regarding the latter, these companies are often fertile ground for consulting, particularly if you have unique talents and experience such as power electronics, analog design, RF design, EMI/EMC (our area), etc. These smaller companies often need help, but not on a full time basis. Yes, they often “outsource” too, but to consultants.
Finally, I agree with your displeasure with unenlightened management. I spend the first half of my career in the corporate environment (big and small), and was twice suddenly out of a job due to corporate bungling and egotism.(Also two reasons why I eventually decided to hang out my own consulting shingle.)
But I also worked for several good companies with great bosses where I learned a lot. Ditto my clients — I’ve seen some great managers in both large and small companies.
So if you don’t want to be on your own, rest assured there are good managers out there — but you do need to seek them out.
I hope this helped. When I responded to the IEEE article (Are Engineers Really in Demand?), I sensed a lot of frustration, just as in your comments. That’s OK — I’ve been there too. But my goal was to show there are viable alternatives, with consulting as one of them. Good luck in 2012, and beyond!
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